When veteran communications strategist, writer and speaker Brian Reich has a message to deliver, you can be sure he’ll craft it to resonate, break through the clutter — and persuade.
As the managing partner of New York City-based little m media, Reich brings his passion for effective communication to his work with global brands, startups, not-for-profits and cause-related organizations.
Carrying a Jimmy Carter Lunchbox
Reich, who jokes about being drawn to politics so early that he carried a Jimmy Carter lunchbox to elementary school, attended the University of Michigan for two years before leaving to work for Vice President Al Gore in the White House and during his 2000 presidential campaign. When Reich returned to college ― this time at Columbia University — he graduated with a BA in what else but Political Science.
The author of two books, “Shift and Reset” and “Media Rules!” and a frequent keynote speaker on the impact of media and technology on society, Brian Reich sat with CMSWire recently to talk about the virtues of knowing how to network, the importance of information in changing behavior and his worries about what he calls an “imagination gap” he sees today.
Sobel: Before becoming an author and starting little m media, you began your career in politics. You took a break from college to spend two years as Briefing Director in the Office of Vice President Al Gore and then joined Gore’s presidential campaign. How has that experience impacted your work today?
Reich: I started working in politics at such a young age that I joke about walking precincts in the womb. I was 15 when I got my first paying campaign job and I worked on dozens of campaigns at all levels throughout high school and college.
During my years working for Al Gore, I was essentially responsible for knowing everything that was going on in the world and being prepared to provide guidance about it at a moment’s notice. To understand what a challenge that was, keep in mind that this was before Google or Facebook — or even smartphones — were part of our daily lives.
I built my own information network that included relationships with reference librarians in different time zones around the world. That way, even if it was the middle of the night in Washington, DC, I could call Hawaii to get the information I needed. The networking mentality I developed working in politics has shaped my thinking ever since about ways that communication can influence behavior.
Sobel: In 2011, you published “Shift and Reset: Strategies for Addressing Serious Issues in a Connected Society” which “re-envisions how we support causes and [address] the issues facing our connected society.” Do the lessons in your book apply beyond the non-profit sector?
Reich: I wrote the book to focus on the most challenging problems that our society faces, problems that are relevant to all of us, whether individually or as organizations. I was watching the philanthropic and cause communities continue to reward the same behaviors that had been ineffective in the past and I wanted to offer some concrete suggestions for change. I interviewed 25 experts to learn what approaches to communication and problem solving were working for them so I could pass along their insights, lessons learned and calls to action.
Sobel: Earlier this year at CollabSpace, a hands-on workshop focused on “intrapreneurial” innovation, you looked at how large, established media and tech companies can foster innovation. Can you share your thoughts?
Reich: I think innovation has become so much about small, incremental changes that organizations aren’t thinking big enough. When people focus only on details and simple actions — how many social media followers they have, whether they hit their sales goals last quarter ― they aren’t keeping the big picture in mind.
I call that disconnect the “Imagination Gap.” Imagination can be a window into the world of what is possible and function as a powerful force in driving people’s creative abilities but it can be very difficult for people to imagine things they have not experienced. Lack of imagination can paralyze people and prevent them from exploring truly game-changing innovations, so I’m focused right now on closing that gap.
Sobel: You work with clients as an “information strategist,” helping them to obtain and share information and develop ways to use it to inform, educate, engage and motivate changes in behavior. Can you give us an example?
Reich: My work focuses on how to get people to change their behavior, whether that’s supporting a cause, voting for a candidate, buying a product or changing their views on an issue. Information is the greatest motivator of behavioral change so the more relevant and timely the information I can help create and distribute, the greater the likelihood of a message achieving success.
Right now I am leading a project with the UN Refugee Agency that is working toward getting more Americans to understand and engage with the global refugee crisis. Over 60 million people have been forced to flee their homes because of war, persecution and conflict, yet support hasn’t materialized due to a variety of political, logistical and emotional factors.
I think one of the main reasons is because we haven’t figured out how to motivate people to focus on the problem and consider taking action. Right now I’m trying to understand what will motivate people to engage so that I can craft communication and engagement activities to move them to action.